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Churchmorph Reflections – Expanding Networks

As Gibbs continues his study on the reshaping of Christian communities in ChurchMorph

, he turns to the ways a new context has changed what leadership and structure look like for the church.

Though church-as-usual works quite well for a certain percentage of us, it has become apparent that it will be hard pressed to reach a large section of our culture. Trying to do the same thing only bigger and better has led to growth, but mostly growth drained from other churches.

Stepping away from the mindset of “if we build it they will come” has been a tough move for the church, but a number of emerging missional networks are breathing life into the church by trying innovative approaches to reaching the de-churched and the never-churched.

So then, how do we “do church” differently? Well, of course, a complex new set of challenges isn’t going to require just one sort of change. Instead we have seen over the last decade a rise of numerous approaches, including the two I want to focus on here, networks and multisite.

The networks that Gibbs sees as making the largest impact are loose affiliations of church plants which seek to live out an incarnational ministry wherever they find themselves. This allows each community to invest in the needs right outside its doors, with much less baggage than more established churches with a large overhead might be able to do. These churches can look like anything from a cafe, to a nightclub, to a bunch of people meeting in a basement to pray and care for each other.

Some of these churches are connected with (though not controlled by) a denomination, others are forming a new structure with small plants or house churches that rely on little more than a shared vision.

A related movement is the growth of multi-site churches. Essentially these are one church, which happens to meet in several locations. The top leadership is all the same, they have very close ties, and there is one teaching each week which is video-cast to the various congregations.

There are advantages to this model, including the potential for growth in new communities without having to start from scratch with new teachers and visionaries. Actually one of my better experiences with the church was a few visits to a multi-site church called RP-48 which my wife attended when we first met (it’s a long way from where we live now so I’ve not been in a while). At the same time multi-site church might be problematic, for the same reason some of these networks can be only magnified quite a bit.

Both multi-site church and [many] networks seem to rely heavily on the vision and charisma of the founder.

Now God knows we need visionary leadership, and that’s fine as far as it goes. Loose networks (like Ecclesia and Acts 29) and multi-site churches (such as Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC) have made a great impact on the church and its mission, and are uniquely equipped to tackle challenges slower moving established structures have a difficult time of.

These new structures can however play into our tendency to create cults of personality, which burn bright until the founder either fails or dies at which point the whole thing can founder.

My question, for which I don’t have a great answer at the moment, is this. How can we facilitate innovation and visionary leadership while avoiding making it about the personalities?

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Have you attended a multi-site church or a church planted by a network? What was your experience?

What are the potential strengths and weaknesses of these new ways of doing church?